Suspected militants kill seven villagers in India attack

GUWAHATI (AFP) - Suspected militants, heavily armed and dressed in army fatigues, opened fire on villagers in restive northeast India, killing at least seven and wounding nine others, police officers said on Monday.

The rebels attacked the villagers late Sunday in Golapara district of Assam state, while they were playing cards during festivities to celebrate the Hindu holiday of Diwali, two senior officers said.

The militants, belonging to the outlawed separatist group the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA), fired on the villagers, killing seven, state Inspector General S.N. Singh said.

"A group of about six to seven GNLA militants armed with AK-47 assault rifles opened fire randomly on a group of villagers," Mr Singh said.

"Witnesses said the militants were dressed in camouflage fatigues," Mr Singh said, adding that seven of the nine wounded villagers were in a serious condition.

Soldiers were deployed following the attack in Agia village of the district, about 230km west of Assam's largest city Guwahati, where deadly violence between rival ethnic tribal groups has long taken place.

"Being a Diwali day, these people were playing cards in front of two tea shops and at that time militants in army fatigues came and fired indiscriminately at them," senior police officer A.P Raut told NDTV news.

The GNLA from neighbouring Meghalaya state has been demanding a separate homeland for the Garo tribe.

Tensions have also been rising in the area between tribal groups in the run-up to local elections starting November 13, local media have reported.

Minority tribal groups have been demanding the areas where they live be kept out of an autonomous council that governs the region.

Northeast India, linked to the rest of the country by a narrow land bridge, has seen decades of friction among ethnic and separatist groups, although some rebels have started peace talks with the government.

More than 10,000 people have lost their lives to unrest in the the tea- and oil-rich state of Assam over the last two decades.